Having a Ball
By Cereal Velocity
“You can’t be serious,” Rarity said to the rather determined-looking mare in front of her.
“Most definitely,” the earth pony responded. “That’s exactly what I want.”
Rarity resisted her eye’s sudden urge to twitch. The two ponies were huddled around samples of fabric and sketched designs for an evening dress on a table in her boutique. This was the first customer Rarity had seen all day, and it was nearly mid-afternoon- playing tabletop games with her sister was fun, but she ran a shop for a reason. Upon seeing the lavender pony, Rarity had almost jumped for joy. Now all she wanted her to do was leave.
The white unicorn took a small breath. “Dear, these colors and this design do not go together. They will clash something horrible with your mane. You’ll look like a disaster.”
“So move this bit around to here and cover up the mane,” the earth pony said, nudging a section of the drawing with her nose.
“You’re missing the point,” Rarity sighed. “The colors don’t match.”
“I think they’ll be fine!”
“Can I at least suggest-“
“Look, I’ll show you,” the earth pony insisted. Grabbing with her mouth two of the fabric samples in the colors she wanted, she placed them on her body in a rough approximation of the order of the dress’ folds, and stepped in front of a mirror. Upon seeing her reflection, the lavender pony squealed with delight, turning around and around to view her arrangement from every angle. All Rarity could do for a moment was watch in horror. The unicorn finally cleared her throat.
“It’s… nice,” she said, levitating the fabric pieces off of the overeager pony and back to the desk. “Tell you what- I’ll make two. One in these colors, and one in a different scheme, and then we can see which one you like best,” she halfway pleaded, putting on her best smile.
The earth pony frowned. “Will that cost extra?” she asked.
“Well, yes, but-“
“Then I don’t want you to do that,” the mare said. “Just make the one.”
Rarity stretched her fake smile a little bit wider. “How about half price for the second dress? I think I can change your mind.”
“Nothing doing,” the pony said, shaking her head. “I’ve made up my mind.”
Rarity swallowed, letting her smile falter a bit. “Of course, madame.”
After the money had changed hooves and the mare had left the shop, Rarity let her head hit the table with a thud. Her one customer of the day, and, of course, it had to be one of those ponies. Rarity was a mare of infinite patience, but she really wished some ponies could just let the designer be the designer.
This wasn’t anything new to her, of course. Far from it. She had even been comforted in this matter before, by ever-pragmatic Twilight, no less.
“As long as they pay, who cares?” she had said. Rarity had mumbled under her breath that she cared, but she didn’t think Twilight had heard her. It wouldn’t have been the first time.
It was that fine line that all creative minds walked. It was the difference between what you know looks good versus what the customer wants. And the money, of course.
Rarity juggled these familiar thoughts as she walked to the back of the store to gather the fabric she would need to construct the outfit. Maybe she would make that second dress free of charge after all. It might be fun, and it might convince that mare that she was just being weird. Rarity levitated the sliding door of her closet open and unconsciously reached out with her magic to grab a roll of the brown fabric, only to grasp empty air. She looked up at the rack to find an empty slot where she had been reaching. Of course, she was out. Of course.
Shaking her head, the unicorn ventured deeper into the closet to see if she had an extra roll stashed somewhere. It was a long shot that she had tossed an extra sleeve back here, but that pattern wasn’t produced locally, and certainly wouldn’t arrive within the day if she ordered it. Best to check first than waste the bits and feel silly. Moving aside boxes of pins and a broken mannequin, she sifted through older and older items. The closet really was a mess- she made a mental note to clean it out someday, even though she knew she wouldn’t.
An item dropped from an overhead storage bin as Rarity moved several cardboard boxes. She caught the item without thinking before it hit the ground. She glanced at it idly. It was a rubber ball of some- wait a second.
It was a ball. It was her ball.
Rarity’s jaw dropped ever so slightly as she turned the sphere with her magic, looking at it from all angles, searching for something. Sure enough, she found what she was looking for: a single, faded blue diamond, printed on the side of the scraped and worn rubber surface.
All thoughts of the dress were forgotten in a split second as Rarity sat down, bringing the ball closer to her. She set it down between her legs and gazed at it. She had forgotten she had kept this. She must have tossed it back here many years ago, when she had opened up her shop. Forgoing her magic for a moment, she reached out with a hoof and gently rolled the ball into the wall. It bounced off and came rolling back to her… just as it had so often when she was a filly.
It couldn’t have been more than a week after Rarity had gotten her cutie mark on the edge of that cliff outside the city. Her parents were thrilled, of course. The first chance they got, they had taken their daughter to the carnival two towns over, as a celebration. Rarity had been asking them to go for months. The day they spent there was almost as exciting as the three gems’ appearance on her flank had been.
Rarity, however, despite her jubilance, had been doing some soul-searching for that long week. After the school play had ended and her gem-studded costumes had been hung up, the unicorn had stashed away her mannequins and her fabrics and her sewing machine. She wasn’t sure what exactly her cutie mark meant, but she was sure that gem finding and fashion design were not in line with one another. In retrospect, it wasn’t quite an identity crisis she had been having- nothing as dramatic as that- but she was, nevertheless, a bit conflicted between her previous hobby and whatever her newfound purpose in life was.
Her parents had told her that she would find what exactly her mark meant in time, and she had believed them. She was just happy to have it.
Perhaps as an addendum to that piece of wisdom, her father had handed her a balloon at some point in the day’s festivities. It was a blue balloon, with three diamond shapes on the side: her cutie mark. Rarity was more proud of the balloon than she maybe should have been, but she didn’t care. She hung on to it throughout the day.
Unfortunately, tragedy befell the balloon on the way home. Upon a chance collision with a passing bird’s beak, it had popped as balloons are wont to do. Just as the small white unicorn had been more proud to have the gift as she should have been, she was more disappointed by its passing than she expected. She tried to hide this childish response from her parents, but even at the time, she knew they noticed.
The next day, her father handed her something else- a box. Rarity had opened the box to find a light blue rubber ball. It was almost as big as she was, and smelled of fresh rubber and ozone. Turning the ball over, she found the same pattern of cyan diamond shapes that had been on her balloon. Instantly, she understood the gesture. She had thanked her father profusely, and the ball and her became instantly inseparable.
For a long while, the ball never left her side, except when she was in school (the teacher didn’t allow it in the classroom, of course). All of Rarity’s normal hobbies fell by the wayside in favor of finding new and inventive uses of her newfound toy. She would climb to the top of the highest hill in her part of town, grasp the ball with all four legs, and roll down with it. It was unladylike, to be certain- but for the first time in her young life, Rarity didn’t care. She would do it again and again until either her parents called her in or the sun went down. After a few runs of this, she was often covered in dirt, leaves, and small bruises, and she loved every minute of it. Her mannequins and fabrics, already half-forgotten by the time of the carnival, were almost totally put out of her mind. She has been vaguely aware at the time of her parents being slightly concerned about this behavior, but they never interfered.
Rarity couldn’t remember the exact moment when she stopped treating the ball as a toy. All she remembered was one day taking the ball out to the hill, and instead of beginning her usual routine, she caught herself staring at the diamond pattern on its surface. She would look at it, and compare it to her own cutie mark. It was a perfect match, of course, which is what her parents had intended. She remembered thinking back to her musings before the carnival about what exactly her mark meant to her. She had never found an answer.
She could find gems. She could find them rather well, as it happened. With nary a conscious thought, her horn would guide her towards any gem she cared to name. She could even, sometimes, with a bit of luck, find certain-colored gems. Gems had many uses in Equestria, and she was quite happy with her bestowed ability. It wasn’t her magic that confused her- it was the fact that she had never quite given gems any consideration in her life. Most ponies of her age that she knew got cutie marks that reflected a hobby or an interest that they already had. And, yet, here she was, with a cutie mark and a magical talent that had literally come out of a blue moon, no matter how useful it may be.
Rarity had sat on that hill for the better part of the afternoon, thinking, until her parents called her in for dinner. She hadn’t really tasted her food that night. She was too busy thinking.
The next day, she came to her parents and told them that she wanted to try to learn to be a jeweler. They had happily agreed, and taken her to the town’s practitioner. Over the course of the next two weeks, Rarity learned everything she wanted to about shaping and polishing the gems that she was able to find in the ground for the jeweler. She took her practice home, learning to shape the gems with her magic and her tools to produce complicated structures and beautiful shapes.
Inevitably, though, Rarity grew tired of simply creating these wonderful things for herself. She went to her father and asked him to teach her about trading and business practices. It took more time than Rarity had expected, but she soon learned the complex systems of selling and buying gemstones, among other things, like their byproducts: diamond-tipped tools, ornaments, and focusing lenses. She even managed to bring in a little money with the things she had made out of her own gems, which had pleased her father greatly.
It wasn’t long before Rarity grew tired of this, as well. This time, she wasn’t sure why. She tried a number of other odd jobs in the intervening time, like growing her own gemstones in rocks. Nothing held her interest. For every job that she outgrew, the more frustrated she grew with herself. Sometimes, she would berate herself- called herself impatient, and selfish. Sometimes, she would encourage herself- tell herself that she would eventually find what she was looking for. Nothing really seemed to help, except her ball.
She would talk to it. Not out loud, but in her head. She would ask, after every job, what it was that she was doing wrong. The ball would sit there, silent, and refuse to answer her. Rarity would stare at the diamond pattern on the ball, and it served as a strange source of comfort for her that she couldn’t explain.
One night, Rarity found a deep gash in the rubber of the ball that she hadn’t noticed before. She assumed it had been from one of her downhill treks. More as a distraction to her thoughts than anything else, she had gone in search of something to fix the gash with. Her search led her to her closet. When she opened the sliding doors, she was surprised to find herself face-to-face with the mannequins she had stuffed there many months ago, all sporting a slight film of dust from disuse.
Rarity wasn’t sure at first how to react to the imposing model horses. Fashion design had completely left her mind after she had begun her search as to her cutie mark’s meaning. It was as if she were looking at an alien language, or something from a long-forgotten past life.
And, yet, unconscious habit drew her in. Almost without thinking, she grabbed a roll of fabric and some scissors. Levitating both items, she brought them to the ball. Cutting out a pattern with the fabric, she started to overlay the pieces on top of the ball, in order to cover up the gash. In the process, she covered up the cutie mark image by accident, so she started cutting away more fabric. Soon, she began to bring out more equipment- her sewing machine, her needles, and her thread. Throughout the night, Rarity worked to dress up the ball in an elaborate outfit that showed off the cutie mark and hid the unsightly damage she had unintentionally inflicted on it. Her parents found her the next morning, fast asleep among piles of discarded fabric and sewing implements, next to her ball, now properly fashionable.
Rarity rolled her old ball into the wall again, and it came back to her again. When it did, she turned the ball with her hoof, looking for the gash. It was still there, on the underside, opposite the cutie mark picture. It was smaller than she remembered it being.
The unicorn looked up and around herself at her surroundings. Her eyes had grown accustomed to the dark, and now she could see the other things she had stashed this far in the closet. She saw complicated gemstone necklaces and pendants. She saw lenses and multi-colored statuettes. She saw her attempts to find herself. And, in the middle of it all, was her and her ball.
She swallowed, looking back down at the toy. Like the gash, it was also smaller than she remembered it being. She couldn’t resist, though. She carefully put her front two hooves on the top of the ball, putting her weight on it. Slowly, she rolled herself forwards over the ball, until she was on her belly. She allowed herself to fall sideways off of it, landing on her side with the ball next to her. She gazed at it with a tiny smile.
She heard a small sound at the doorway of the closet. Turning her head, she saw Sweetie Belle, watching her with a confused expression.
“Sis, what are you doing in the dark?” she asked.
Rarity let her smile grow. “I was looking for something,” she said.
Sweetie Belle let an eyebrow drop. “Did you find it?”
Rarity looked at the ball between her legs, and then back at her sister; more specifically, at her flank, which was still bare. Still waiting for her own chance, her own set of questions and answers. As she looked, Rarity had an idea. She got to her hooves.
“I did. Come on- we’re going to the toy shop,” she said, walking out of the closet. The ball remained on the floor as she shut the door.